Tying the Knot

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Wills Creek Vineyards offers couples and their families an idyllic location for a weekend celebration.

by BRETT BRALLEY JAILLET | Photos of Chris and Kendra Fitzgerald’s wedding at Wills Creek Vineyards by Southern Bliss Photography

Janie Coppey and her husband, Jahn, saw the beginnings of their winery-wedding business back in 1996, when they planted their first batch of muscadine grapes. Janie was familiar with the land. She grew up working it, while it was a dairy farm belonging to her parents.

When her parents were no longer able to tend the 100-acre spread, she and Jahn had the opportunity to take it over.

“We knocked around some ideas,” Coppey said. “My husband and his family had vineyards for generations in Switzerland, where he’s from. In the summers, I used to go work the vineyards with his parents, and our original plan was to go retire in Switzerland and start a vineyard over there.”

They decided to simply change the location of their vineyard retirement plan, and now, tucked in a valley near Attalla, Ala., sits row upon row of grapevines the Coppeys work hard to maintain.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]…

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]Simply enjoying the wines Wills Creek Winery produced wasn’t enough for some, and soon Coppey was receiving inquiries about using the location for weddings. When land came up for sale just two miles away, the couple jumped at the chance to expand their business, grow more muscadines and set up a site designed specifically for weddings. So began Wills Creek Vineyards at the Windmill, nodding to the windmill that graces the property.

The Coppeys transformed the main house on the new property into an event space, with several rooms available for wedding parties to use as a getting-ready location before the ceremony. Some have even opted to use the house as accommodations, Coppey says. They also built a large pavilion for receptions and cocktails, rehearsal dinners and other events.

In just three years, Wills Creek Vineyards at the Windmill has played host to nearly 50 weddings, including that of Janie and Jahn’s own daughter Kendra Fitzgerald.

Besides the obvious reasons, as Fitzgerald puts it, she wanted to get married at Wills Creek because she found the property to be a true testament to Alabama beauty. She and her husband Chris live in New York, and they wanted out-of-towners to experience the South at its finest.

“I wanted to choose somewhere that would be welcoming, that guests would find beautiful and that would allow them to see the scenery of Alabama,” Fitzgerald said. “We were really excited to bring all of our friends to this location.”

The couple has a love for the classic romance of the 1940s – Chris is a World War II buff – and the quaint and idyllic vineyard served as the perfect backdrop for this theme. Coordinator Alicia Argy, who is 40 Lookout Alabama Summer 2013 Summer 2013 Lookout Alabama 41 available to all couples at Wills Creek, worked with Fitzgerald to create an event teeming with lace, burlap and vintage details.

Along with the Coppeys, Argy has established relationships with nearby vendors, including photographers, florists and entertainers, and she does a little bit of everything – from managing overall logistics down to tiny details like perfecting food displays at receptions.

Fitzgerald says Argy made planning from a distance easy. “Everything went off without a hitch,” she says.

The ceremony was held under two giant oak trees, and the couple exchanged vows in front of a vine-covered arch, which the Coppeys constructed and draped with strands of ribbons for extra personality. Past the arch and beyond the trees is a lake, and Fitzgerald loved that her guests could enjoy such a view during the ceremony. She also relished the proximity to the rows of vines.

“Some of our guests were literally sitting right next to the vineyards, she says.

Following the ceremony, guests strolled across the grounds to a large tent complete with a bar offering beer, cocktails and wine (from the winery, of course) and plenty of room for dancing after dinner.

The night before, Kendra and Chris hosted a rehearsal dinner at the vineyards that concluded with a marshmallow roast for their families and out-of-town guests.

The Coppeys let every couple reserving the space use it from Friday through Sunday. Part of that decision stems from memories the Coppeys have from Switzerland, when Jahn brought Janie home to meet his entire family for the first time. It was a weekend-long celebration, unlike the traditional American weddings Janie had experienced, which “included a ceremony, punch and cookies afterwards, and then everyone heads home,” she says with a laugh.

“We don’t want to be a wedding mill or have a quick turnover with every bride,” she adds. “We want this to be a relaxed and special time for our brides and their families.”

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